I saw them all and more early on

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge. Read his column in The News.

When I travel, I sometimes visit an older cemetery. Maybe some of you would find this a strange and morbid trait, but I find it a source of historical information.

For example, reading the information inscribed on the tombstones is often instructive in finding out how short or long  people lived and how much things have changed in the course of time.

One hundred years ago, the number of children’s graves often outnumbered those of adults, and even most of them  did not live to the ripe old age we more or less take for granted today.

In the newer sections, the majority of the final resting places are now for much older and some very old people. The children’s graves are fewer. The reason for that shift is largely due to the development of the public health programs among which vaccination takes an important place, next to clean water and proper sanitation.

Unfortunately, lately we had a grim experience that we cannot become complacent in our social responsibility to fully participate in the public health measures.

Four previously healthy babies have died from whooping cough, a totally preventable disease, given available vaccines.

The whooping cough outbreak is slowly subsiding, thanks to modern medicine.

But many more children ended up in intensive care units for weeks, often teetering on the brink of death before they finally recovering.

It is so sad that first a lot of unnecessary harm has to occur before people woke up and availed them of the free and effective protection of the whooping cough vaccine.

The positive response to the media campaign to go and get vaccinated is the main reason the outbreak is getting under control.

Throughout the past 20 years, I have listened to parents present me with the most outrageous theories and pseudoscientific opinions as to why children should not be vaccinated. None of these misguided people had ever seen a child die or suffer a paralysis for life with polio, or die in short order with meningitis, or suffer the horrible slow death from tetanus. Nor have they seen the congenital damage from German measles or children succumbing from diphtheria.

I saw all of them and more early in my career as a physician and I do not wish to see any more of these totally preventable diseases.

Why have younger parents become complacent or opposed to vaccinations?

Older people were much more aware of these killer diseases, because they had experienced or heard from family or friends how devastating these diseases were and how protective the vaccines are.

With the exception of some fundamentalist misguided individuals, most sensible people readily availed themselves of the preventative injections and the diseases slowly disappeared from people’s awareness.

Many of the younger generations, therefore, have never heard, let alone seen what happens to a child if not protected and tend to think the vaccinations are not needed any more.

Add to that the misinformation some people spread and one gets a perfect set-up for accumulating a considerable number of vulnerable children and people.

And then all that is needed is one person carrying a particular virus or bacteria to visit this vulnerable population and one gets a serious outbreak.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.